Two days. Two long days of driving over roads so pot-holed that they looked like Swiss cheese. Two days of limiting my intake of liquid in order to only need to urinate in the allocated bathroom stops (which turn out to be so few that I question if everybody else needs water in order to survive). Two days of travelling from Marrakesh, Morocco as part of a package tour to the Sahara Desert due to it being the only financially viable way to get there when you’re on a tight budget. The goal was the Sahara. Everything else just needed to be tolerated.

We had climbed mountains, (part of an overvisited movie set that we had all been reluctant to stop at) fought through wild vegetation (my friend fell into a cactus on the way out of the bathroom during one of the infrequent stops) and battled hunger and thirst (lunch wasn’t included and we were too tight-fisted to pay) but we had made it through. We were there. We were finally there.

I pressed my face up against the glass of the minibus like a child pulling up next to Disneyland. An expanse of Cheeto-coloured sand formed ripples of dunes behind the herd of sorry looking camels that awaited us. After an intense deliberation over whether to choose the camel that looked like it had rabies or the one with severe alopecia, we had our decisions made for us and awkwardly climbed onto their humps, which were cushioned with piles of dusty blankets that would later be used to form our beds.

With grunts that gave the impression that our noble desert-steeds were in great pain, the camels folded out from their kneeling positions with their knot-like limbs showing no signs of weakness. I watched as awkward European tourists held on for dear life as the camels threw them forward and upwards at unnerving speeds. Between us we had all the grace and poise of a fat man doing ballet.

Once our small group were all on top of their allotted camels, we set off into the late afternoon sun, led by two small Bedouin boys and a barefooted man who remained on dunes parallel to ours throughout the journey. Tales of the discomfort of camel-riding had littered the late-night hostel anecdotes throughout Morocco. My friend and I had disregarded them as exaggerated accounts whose purpose was to make for more interesting stories, but we were about to find out how true those stories had been.

Initially the novelty of the experience clouded the pain, but as time went on and that novelty subsided, a numbness began to creep up our backsides and the jerking rhythm of the camel’s gait begins to shoot small ripples of pain up our spines.

Our eyes stayed fixed on the shifting horizon, praying to see camp as each second went by, but the beautiful baron landscape continued endlessly.

The only sign of life were the feline paw prints that speckled the sand. Domesticated cats that had transformed, but were nowhere to be seen. Ghost cats.

Dusk was nearing when a white object in the distance caught everybody’s attention. There was a sudden feeling of relief that spread throughout the group so strong that it was almost tangible.

When we arrived we dismounted our camels at lightning speed and made a dash up the nearest dune as the feeling began to return to our lower halves. Running up sand is like running with weights strapped to your feet, where every step up brings you back down to almost the same point. Any energy we had retained from our journey on camel-back was quickly depleted on the run up the hill. My friend and I reached the top first and collapsed into the sand on our bellies, awestruck by the endless landscape of the Sahara.

The ruckus that the group had been causing came to an abrupt end once everybody had reached the top and seen the magnificent panorama that awaited us. We sat in silence untainted by civilisation. Pure silence.

Pinpricks of lights began to appear as the sun dipped further and further down below the horizon and before long the sky became an explosion of white so bright you could see the faces of everybody around you. I laid wide-eyed, astounded by the breath-taking beauty of the night sky: always there, but rarely seen quite like this.

Image Credit: NASA